Guest Blogger Laura Purvis reviews Rattle Snake
Having heard of the origin of Rattle Snake, I was keen to see it on stage. The show was initially created to train frontline police officers around the change in UK law in 2015, making coercive control in relationships a crime. Written by Catrina McHugh, Rattle Snake, is very hard-hitting and I can imagine it had a deep impact on the officers it was rolled out to as it did with me.
Inspired by true stories, the show is intense throughout. It tells the stories of Suzy and Jen who have both been victims of coercive control by the same man, James. They both tell us what he was like, where they met him, how things started out really well. But for them both, that didn’t last, James had actually started controlling them from the beginning without them realising. By the time things got worse, he was very hard to get rid of.
With this show I got the opportunity to go to the dress rehearsal the day before. I was very keen to do so and got to hear the reaction of the director and writer as well the others involved in the production. They were both eager to hear my thoughts on the piece as soon as it was finished. I knew already from watching it, that it was something they were all very passionate, but getting that response from them both confirmed it. The show impressed me from the off. There was something about watching it in an empty theatre that heightened the tension, it almost added to the drama of the piece.
After having seen the full show the night before, I was still excited to see it again. With some shows I think you can come away feeling like you’ve seen it now, you don’t need to see it again. That wasn’t the case whatsoever with Rattle Snake. I had already gone home and told a few people they should get tickets to see it. It’s quite different to many shows I’ve seen, but I liked that. I found it refreshing and intriguing. Also getting to meet speaking to Catrina, (the writer) her passion for the piece and the true stories behind it was really moving to hear. She is so grateful to the brave women she worked with and who’s stories inspired the piece. That made her very conscious of doing them justice. And that she does.
Rattle Snake is the first show I’ve seen without any hint of comedy in it. In turn, it made the show more memorable. I often find in theatre, that shows are written or presented in a way that they are trying to get across a serious story, wrapped up in, or broken up by moments of comedy. Rattle Snake doesn’t do that. I think that is part of the message the writer is trying to deliver. There is nothing funny about coercive controlling relationships no matter which way you look at it or address it. This constant intensity made me feel somewhat uneasy, which I believe was intentional. Suzy and Jen are telling us of their lives, and how they’re constantly on edge because of the relationship, the staging and the way in which the show is presented makes us experience that somewhat. Albeit, on a much lesser scale.
There was very little focus on props or changing sets, it was clear from the outset that the production was all about the story. The lighting effects used really enhanced the sense of drama and was cleverly used throughout the show. The bright lights were used to demonstrate Jen and Suzy being under James’ constant spotlight and scrutiny. This was also furthered by the set design. Created by Anna Reid, her creative vision of life in a box, under the spotlight was very apparent. Their lives had become confined, this is what they had been driven too. This was demonstrated further by the constant re-laying and adjusting of the table throughout. Even when we weren’t being told of the impact the relationships were having on them, we were being shown.
The two actors both delivered their parts in a very powerful way. They both managed to swap clearly to the part of James in turn for each other. With both of them, it was very easy to spot the transition; there was never any question of whether they were being Suzy, Jen or James. This again left the focus on the story, and that it was their story to tell, not his. Overall Rattle Snake is very powerful, unique and a show I’d happily see again.